The Blues are Women’s FA Cup winners for the third time in our history following a dominant victory over Arsenal at Wembley Stadium which completes a clean sweep of domestic honours this year.
This was a game between the top two sides in this season’s Women’s Super League, with only a point separating us, but on the pitch it became apparent from almost the first whistle that Emma Hayes’ side were vastly superior in virtually every area on a wet and cold day in north-west London.
We were in front after only three minutes, courtesy of a superbly taken goal by Fran Kirby. Arsenal gave up the ball cheaply and Sam Kerr was onto it in a flash, knocking it through for our No14 to run clear and clip a tidy finish past Manuela Zinsberger.
The Gunners keeper was the only reason the scoreline remained competitive for as long as it did, as she pulled off a number of magnificent saves in the first half, denying both Kerr and Kirby on several occasions. When the former did manage to beat her, the crossbar came to the Austrian’s rescue.
However, the goals our performance deserved finally came in the second half, as the 51st Women’s FA Cup final, and seventh at Wembley, was lit up by the in-form Kerr.
The Australian put us 2-0 up just before the hour-mark with a smart finish past Zinsberger at the near post, having been sent clear down the left by Kirby. Between them, the two Blues forwards gave the Arsenal defence a torrid time all afternoon.
The icing on the cake was still to come, though, as Kerr produced a finish that is up there with the best Women’s FA Cup final goals of all-time. Once again the Gunners rearguard had no answer to our pace on the counter, as Kerr sprinted away from her marker and produced an outrageous chip over the keeper and into the back of the net.
We’d lost the 2016 final to the Gunners before gaining revenge two years later. Now there was absolutely no doubt that we’d be getting our hands on the trophy for the first time since then. What’s more, it completed a clean sweep of domestic honours for the Blues, as we add the trophy to the WSL title and Continental League Cup triumphs earlier this year.
What a perfect early Christmas present this was for the Blues, but with a vital Champions League game against Juventus to come on Wednesday night, the celebrations will be short and sweet. As always with Hayes, who is in her 10th year as Chelsea boss, the focus immediately shifts to the next triumph. But what a sweet victory this was…
There was little to report when the team news came in an hour before kick-off, as Arsenal named an unchanged XI from their most recent fixture and Chelsea made just one alteration. Drew Spence was the player to miss out, as Sophie Ingle came in. Incidentally, the two of them were the only members of our matchday squad who had also been part of our first FA Cup final, in 2012.
Ann-Katrin Berger started in goal, behind a back four of Millie Bright, Jess Carter and Magdalena Eriksson. In midfield, the width came from Erin Cuthbert and Guro Reiten, who lined up either side of Ingle and Melanie Leupolz, and there was plenty flexibility to a front three of Jessie Fleming, Kerr and Kirby.
After Ella Henderson had belted out the national anthem, the two top sides in the country were ready to go head-to-head in front of a raucous Wembley crowd. Within three minutes of kick-off, however, it was only those of a Blues persuasion who could be heard.
It was clear from the first whistle that we’d make life uncomfortable for the Arsenal rearguard with a high press, and after a few nervy moments the Gunners defence were punished by the most lethal duo in the WSL.
Possession was coughed up cheaply to Kerr, who wasted no time turning a pass around the corner that clipped off an Arsenal defender and through to Kirby. With the form Super Fran has been in of late, which included becoming the first player to bring up a century of goals for the Blues, she was never going to miss. After two touches to steady herself, she beat Zinsberger with a clipped finish into the far corner and immediately headed to the Chelsea supporters, arms spread wide and roaring in delight.
Arsenal almost found themselves 2-0 down inside six minutes, as Kirby and Kerr linked up once again and the Australian went one-on-one with the keeper, only for Zinsberger to come out on top this time. A few moments later, Beth Mead went into the book for a clumsy challenge on Eriksson – the Gunners were clearly rattled.
Although our opponents were enjoying the bulk of possession, all the action was taking place at the other end of the pitch and Arsenal were relying on Zinsberger performing heroics to keep them in it. She produced a magnificent save to deny Kirby, although the Blues had cause for complaint as Kerr was clearly fouled inside the penalty area in the build-up.
The keeper was at it again a few minutes later, as another swift Chelsea counter cut through the Gunners defence and Kirby had time to pick her spot from the edge of the box, forcing Zinsberger to scramble across goal to push it behind. Eriksson then headed the resulting corner wide when she was completely unmarked. With only 25 minutes on the clock, it was not unreasonable to say Chelsea should have been three or four goals to the good.
Ten minutes later, another gilt-edged chance went begging. Kerr and Wubben-Moy went shoulder to shoulder chasing a ball back towards the Arsenal box and our No20 got the better of the exchange, giving her a clear run at goal. This time her shot beat Zinsberger, but the ball hit the crossbar instead of the back of the net.
Although our opponents enjoyed their best spell of the half following that missed opportunity, by the time of the half-time break they had yet to test Berger and the scoreline didn’t come close to telling the full story of an utterly dominant opening 45 minutes by the Blues.
Having failed to make the most of our chances, it was vital that the Blues maintained our intensity at the start of the second half, safe in the knowledge that Arsenal’s players would have been read the riot act at half-time.
Mead briefly threatened to jink her way into a shooting opportunity, only for Carter to time a slide tackle to perfection, knocking the ball to safety and not making any contact with the Arsenal forward inside the box. That was about as uncomfortable as it got for us in the opening stages of the second half, while we continued to carve out chances at the other end.
Kerr forced Zinsberger into action once more with a header from Cuthbert’s cross that the keeper was able to deal with relatively easily, but a few minutes later the Australian international finally had the goal she deserved.
The build-up was as simple as it gets, with Kirby knocking the ball down the left channel for Kerr to chase. She found herself with just Wubben-Moy for company and she quickly had the Gunners defender where she wanted her, squaring her up before reversing a finish in at the near post. It was a superbly taken goal and one that gave us much-needed, and deserved, breathing space.
Arsenal had no choice but to go for it at this stage. On came first Iwabuchi and then Foord, with a midfielder and centre-half making way – and they should have been left with an even bigger mountain to climb soon after. Kirby ran at the Arsenal defence and curled a peach of a left-footed shot that left Zinsberger rooted to the spot, but the post came to her rescue.
That was Kirby’s last involvement of a quite dazzling performance, as she made way a couple of minutes later for Pernille Harder. Not a bad change to be able to make at this stage of a cup final! Within a few minutes, she was celebrating with Kerr after an absolutely sublime goal to put our name on the trophy.
Leupolz won the ball back on halfway and slid the ball through to Kerr in the inside-right channel, and after a touch to shift it out of her feet she produced an audacious chip over Zinsberger and into the back of the net. Fifty years on from the first Women’s FA Cup final, the showpiece event in the domestic calendar won’t have been graced by too many better goals than that.
Thirteen minutes remained, but the game was all over bar the shouting. Hayes made a triple substitution late on that was well received by the Blues section of the Wembley crowd, as Spence, Ji and Bethany England were introduced. Aniek Nouwen also got on before stoppage-time was complete, getting a few seconds to soak up a winning Wembley cup final as a Chelsea player.
The final whistle was greeted by a roar from the stands and on the pitch, as the celebrations could begin in earnest. For the third time in our history, Chelsea Women were FA Cup winners, only this time it was different. Our previous two triumphs had been part of Doubles, as we were also crowned WSL winners; now it was as part of a Treble, along with the Continental League Cup, or even a Quadruple, with the Community Shield also won back in August 2020.
Whatever you want to call it, one thing was clear as Eriksson became the second Chelsea skipper to get her hands on the FA Cup, after Katie Chapman. The Blues are the dominant side in English football in 2021. Of that there can be no doubt.
We are next in action on Wednesday 8 December when we face Juventus at Kingsmeadow in the Women’s Champions League. Our fifth Group A fixture of the season gets under way at 8pm. Tickets for that game are still available – click here to buy yours now!
Chelsea (3-4-3) Berger; Bright, Carter, Eriksson (c); Cuthbert, Ingle (Nouwen 90+4), Leupolz (Ji 86), Reiten (Spence 86); Kirby (Harder 74), Kerr (England 86), FlemingUnused subs Musovic, Charles, Andersson, FoxScorers Kirby 3, Kerr 57, 77Booked Cuthbert 45
Arsenal (4-3-3) Zinsberger; Maritz, Wubben-Moy (Boye 87), Beattie (Foord 70), Catley; Maanum (Parris 80), Walti (Iwabuchi 61), Little (c); Mead, Miedema, McCabeUnused subs Williams, Patten, Nobbs, Schnaderbeck, GoldieBooked Mead 8, McCabe 65, Parris 81
Referee Helen Conley